Oakland group decries 24-hr youth prison lockups

An Oakland-based human rights nonprofit is waging an online drive urging California’s Division of Juvenile Justice to immediately stop extensive isolation of youth prisoners.

A declaration filed May 24 in an Alameda County Superior Court lawsuit regarding conditions at DJJ prisons included documentation that some youth inmates aren’t receiving the minimum three hours per day of out-of-room time that they should.

“(T)he most frequent failure to meet out-of-room requirements has occurred at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility,” Nancy Campbell, a court-appointed special master in the case, wrote in a May 20 memo. “In the 14 weeks documented, there were 173 out of 1,453 incidents during which youth on TD (temporary detention) or TIP (temporary intervention plans) spent more than 21 of 24 hours confined to his or her rooms. Other DJJ facilities struggle to meet mandated services requirements as well.”

More than a dozen members of Books Not Bars, a campaign of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, have children who have spent 23-plus hours a day locked up in cold cells with little human contact and zero programming.

“The DJJ abuses my son by keeping him in solitary confinement. The last time I saw him, he had bruises on his face and he couldn’t hold a conversation with me. How could they do this to our children?” Books Not Bars member Maria Sanchaz said in a news release; her son is locked up in the Ventura facility.

Books not Bars says the special master’s report also indicates DJJ is failing to provide youth inmates with the minimum education required every day and, due to high levels of institutional violence, is canceling medical appointments without rescheduling them.

“The use of solitary confinement is one of the most egregious violations we’ve seen from California Division of Juvenile Justice,” Ella Baker Center Executive Director Jakada Imani said in a news release. “Extensive isolation amounts to torture and trauma for our youth- the exact opposite of the rehabilitation the DJJ is tasked with providing. Californians should be outraged that Secretary Matthew Cate is allowing this dangerous and abusive practice to persist.”

This video posted last year by DJJ paints a rosier picture of life at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, and includes some views of the youth inmates’ rooms:

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Rick

    It’s sickening to hear California is doing this to kids.

  • MFinTown

    What a horrible shame for California. Whether they have made mistakes or not- these are kids. And the treatment of them by the DJJ is nothing less than torture. Shame!

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    Maybe the little darlings will remember how dreary lockup can be when they are released.

  • Elwood

    “he had bruises on his face”

    If the little darling is locked up 23+ hours a day, how does he get bruises on his face?

  • Olivia

    It is disappointing that CA chooses to direct our energy towards keeping our youth in jails, instead of helping to rehabilitate them! The Ella Baker Center is taking action against this, and so can you. Go to https://secure3.convio.net/ebc/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=187 to send a message to Matthew Cate (the head of CA’s prison system) asking him to ensure that youth get the minimum of 8 hours outside of their cells. Solitary confinement is torture!

  • Elwood

    @ Olivia

    Yes, that’s on my to do list, right after cleaning the rain gutters.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    Bleeding hearties, dewy-eyed “liberals,” view lockup as a growth opportunity for misbehaving youth.